Well dear readers, we've come full circle. Welcome to the fifth issue of Black Fox Literary Magazine. It was just last summer that we were pouring our hearts into the very first issue of Black Fox. A year later, and we can safely say that nothing has changed. Our passion is still there, and we continue to pour our hearts into each and every issue.
We, like any other publication, had to get the word out about the magazine in order to get enough submissions. Lucky for us, the number of submissions has consistently increased every reading period. The issues are getting harder to put together because we have so many tough decisions to make. But this is a good thing. We see that you're improving as writers and in turn, our issues are getting better.
The support from the writing community has been magnanimous. Our number one goal has always been to sustain a solid readership while providing writers with a platform for their work. We're proud to report that we've done just that.
We are excited to announce that the winner of our first fiction contest is Patty Hopkins for her story, That's How It Feels. This issue could not be possible without our contributors, especially our cover artist, Misti RainwaterLites and our cover specialist, Natalie Henry-Charles. Sincere thanks to you all. And of course, we'd like to thank someone who provides a wealth of encouragement, advice and inspiration to the writing communityâ€”our blogger, Helen Dring.
A very special thank you to everyone who has made a donation with their submission and to those of you who
bought a copy of any of our past issues. Thanks to Salena Casha for contributing such a moving story and for taking the time to chat with us. To Omar Tyreeâ€”weâ€™re so honored to have such a respected and renowned writer in our Anniversary Issue. Thank you for reading, supporting and growing with us. We're looking forward to many more years.
The Editors, Racquel, Pam and Marquita
Meet the Editors Racquel Henry is first and foremost a writer. In order to pay the bills, she is also a part time Administrative Assistant at a law firm in Tampa, FL., where she currently resides. Much to her own surprise, she actually enjoys the job that helps put food on the table. Racquel writes literary and women’s fiction in hopes to have a novel published sometime in the near future. She also enjoys reading a variety of genres, and is currently obsessed with flash fiction. Some of her favorite authors include, Lorrie Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Sophie Kinsella, and Toni Morrison. She recently completed coursework for her MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. At the moment, she is searching for a new school to call home, and to pursue a PhD degree. Her stories have appeared in The Scarlet Sound, Blink-Ink and The Rusty Nail. You can follow her writing journey on her very own blog titled, “Racquel Writes.” She is looking forward to the growth of Black Fox Literary Magazine.
Pam Harris lives in Chesapeake, VA and works as a middle school counselor. When she isn't wiping tears and helping kids study for tests, she's writing contemporary YA fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Ellen Hopkins, Courtney Summers, Jodi Picoult, and Stephen King. You can also find her at the movie theaters every weekend or pretending to enjoy exercising. She received her MFA in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012, and plans to use this degree to help edit this magazine as well as possibly teach others the joys of make believe.
Marquita "Quita" Hockaday also lives in Chesapeake, Virginia. She is a high school history teacher who has never been able to shake her love of writing and reading. There is always, always a book near her. Marquita is currently enjoying writing young adult (historical and contemporary). Some of her favorite authors are Laurie Halse Anderson, Blake Nelson, Cormac McCarthy and Joyce Carol Oates. Marquita also graduated with an MFA in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012, and she can't wait to use that knowledge to teach writing and co-edit this magazine.
Contents Fiction A Late Talk by Spencer Hayes……………………….....8 Be the Body by Matthew Funk………………………….27 Death of a Patriarch by Lee Wright……………………35 The Oboist by David O’Connell………………………..41 In Sight by Salena Casha……………………………….74 That’s How It Feels by Patty Hopkins Black Fox Fiction Contest Winner……………………..81
Poetry The Midnight Wastes of Heaven by A.J. Huffman………25 In My Own Little World by Angela Khristen Brown…….34 Vermin and the Man by John Grey………………………40 Rot by Brandon Figliolino……………………………….70 Poverty by Olubunmi Bolarin……………………………72 Fire by Zakk Flash Luttrell………………………………78
Contributor Corner An Interview with Salena Casha………………………..85
Author Interview A Conversation with New York Times Bestselling Author, Omar Tyree……………………………………………...89
Photography Captured (cover) by Misti Rainwater-Lites
A Late Talk By Spencer Hayes
Brent Hillcoat was as tall and wide as a Bible Belt tornado, and he moved as if the world was one big trailer park. A former lineman at Levittown High, he was out of the sporting racket. His aspirations had died in increments, and all that remained of them was the blue and gray sateen jacket he bummed around in, the one with the Nittany Lion on the back. Brent had allowed his body to decay. With no one to keep on him, no obligation to stay trim, with too many beers and Doritos within reach, heâ€™d softened like wet cardboard. His once firm pecs sagged like sandbag ballasts on a hot air balloon, and his gut was a flabby crag. But make no mistake, he could still send a man spinning to the ground with a single blow. Brent knew how to hurt people. He was good at that. *
Brent was out to make amends, had sketched a plan. It involved an apology, checking to see if he should expect a house call from the cops, whether he should get his alibi in order or hoof it out of town. Brent crisscrossed the sidewalk outside the girl’s house as if behind an invisible line of scrimmage, stopping periodically beneath the cool burn of a streetlamp to survey the tumble-down abode. It was a soggy autumn night. Leaves stuck together like papier-mâché. Pacing, coupled with his duct tape-mended vest, spawned sweat trees on his brow. Brent had been drinking—as usual. It was his pastime and his passion. The cans on the passenger seat and floor pan of his car were proof of his devotion. They clinked like a hobo’s recycling cart. He would never have come to Becky’s house—Becky was her name, right?— looking to set things straight had he not mustered that hops and barley courage into his belly one swig at a time.
Brent would regret drinking as much as he had in the morning, his head racked with the aftershocks of the night before, sunrays poking through the floral sheet secured to his window with masking tape, the heat and light pushing on his shoulder. Also in the morning, his father would read him the riot act the way an old lady at church delivers the Nicene Creed. Brent had tapped the stash of Nattie Ice his dad secreted under the workbench between the dog-eared stack of W-2s he saved for the audit that never came and the Ovaltine jar full of coins he regularly cashed at the bank. But Brent didnâ€™t have to worry about his dad, not for several hours yet, not until he snapped out his nightly coma spent propped in his chair before the TV, eyes glued to the glassed-over box. Brent had sat in his car outside Beckyâ€™s house for some time, honking like he was picking her up for carpool, but she didnâ€™t come out. A shadow visited the window now
and then, but that was it. She was alone and had to know he knew. * A few nights before, they’d hooked up at a bar— your S.O.P.—and after a while, their inhibitions were scuttled under a sea of five dollar Miller Lite. For some privacy, they went to Brent’s busted up Ford, a deathtrap held together with Elmer’s glue, bungee cords, and prayers. Becky was too busy kissing him to notice. Their hands headed south, and one thing led to another. Brent didn’t have time to ask Becky what she saw in a loser like him because as he formed the question she swung herself over the shifter and straddled his lap the way a detective in a movie sits backward while interrogating a suspect. If you could call it making love then that’s what they did, and when he was done, patting his face with a Wendy’s napkin he kept for safekeeping in the cubbyhole
on the car door, Becky’s face asked if that was all. It was, and she giggled, said it had been like getting fucked by her brother. Brent hit her, not knowing what to say, knowing his hand could say it better. He didn’t know what he had hoped to achieve, but she got quiet. There was no more laughing. She should’ve considered herself lucky he stopped himself after one. Becky palmed her face, ran her fingers over it, testing to make sure it was still there and not half way across town. Brent expected her to call for help, start screaming, but all she did was cry like a little girl lost in a mall. Brent broke out his sweet, calm voice, the one he’d used on Becky not that long ago, the one he’d used his whole life to unclasp the bras and drop the panties of all the cheerleaders he ever two-timed. But it did no good. Becky refused to be soothed. Brent drove her home, pulled to the
curb, and kicked her out the door, printing his shoe on her ass. She fell in a heap of tears and begging and disgrace, gripped the grass like the hair of a severed head, and he left her that way. * Brent hated himself for what he’d done and wanted to square things with Becky, but at the time he’d been madder than he’d ever been. He’d only known her a few hours, so what gave her the right to say such things? He could’ve killed her for such things, raped her, shown her what’s what, who’s who, but she’d gone to his car, had loved him—if only briefly. He liked her, knew he couldn’t stay mad at her, but what was done was done. Brent’s small, tar-papered town was a hodgepodge of blood relations, calamitous feuds, and motor-mouths. He’d bump into Becky again or one of her kin, no doubt about it. But before that, word would spread faster than a poison ivy rash. He’d heard the gossip about bad tippers,
meth-heads, girls who were in a family way, and he could only imagine what they’d do with this news. Brent imagined himself nursing Becky, but he didn’t know the first thing about nursing aside from what he’d gleaned from those concussed excursions to the hospital after a blackout tackle. He thought about buying Becky a card, chocolates, a stuffed animal, making her soup, a sandwich sliced however she liked with the crusts trimmed off. Brent wanted to make her bed, clean her sheets first, get her Tylenol, and ice the blue-gray bruise around her eye. That was the extent of his medical knowhow. Florence Nightingale he was not, and even if he was, would Becky let him? It didn’t take Einstein to answer that one, but he had to try, didn’t he? * Brent made his way to Becky’s door, his forehead wrinkled like a tin roof, eyes striped with veins. He thought he had left this life behind him when he went to State
College. That scholarship had been a golden jetpack, and he zipped away never looking back, not once feeling Lot’s wife’s weakness. When Brent got there, he was seduced by the cheap fame, the adulation, the spontaneous reverence lavished on him by strangers and buxom girls. He swaggered around with a pack of high-fiving, fist-pounding, back-slapping buds. They caromed from party to party and frat to frat as permanent guests of honor. He cat-called, got high, gulped kegs like they were Dixie cups, skipped class, got blown, missed practice, promised to straighten up and fly right only to flash the cops his dick. He lacked grace, squandered the school’s goodwill with uncommon speed, and flunked the bulk of his courses. The special immunities and privileges courtesy of the football program couldn’t save him, and even if they could’ve, the coaches didn’t want to deal with his bullshit anymore.
The time to reform had come and gone, and the carrot of money and fame was yanked away. As Brent loaded his suitcases, he knew he’d wake up every morning for the rest of his life knowing he’d gamed himself out of his meal ticket. He was given the one-way boot home never to wear the armor of helmet, pads, and cleats again. He joined the ranks of the other flatulent, bad-tempered ex-athletes who’d never gone anywhere or done anything or become anyone. When Brent stepped off the bus, there was no prodigal son reunion. He was greeted with folded arms and livid stares, his preserved bedroom, dad in the hallway saying “Thank God your mother’s dead.” They welcomed him onto the graveyard shift at UPS, his carnival barker foreman calling the shots, stinking of smoke. Brent built Tetris walls of boxes and packed his life into those cardboard coffins an hour at a time. The bending and dead lifts, the jerking and shoving on top of no medical, not for another couple of
months, it was a recipe for a slipped disc or two, a pinched nerve. In a matter of weeks he’d earned himself the back of a man twice his age. * Brent had been destined for big things, had dined on that pie in the sky, been dumb enough to think he’d be held above the crowd on someone’s shoulders while stadiums chanted his name, but that dream was a vegetable on life support. He visited it now and then in his sleep, too chicken to pull the plug. But Brent wasn’t thinking about any of that as he punted Becky’s door and grunted. He stopped whenever his foot tired and instead molested the doorbell, his face a spotty red. “Open up,” he said, striking his palm on wood. “Come on!”
“Go away,” Becky said, and a bark followed from inside, backing her up. It was a small, frail squeak from some itty-bitty thing that probably could’ve fit on a saucer. It went on like this, call and response, a joyless, furious game of Marco Polo. Brent grew louder, angrier, saw the door split lengthwise like a graham cracker. A cold snap had burst the plumbing in his heart, and he was drowning. “Bitch,” he said. “Bitch!” Becky wouldn’t stop screaming. Her cries augured handcuffs and sirens. “You’re a complete cunt, you know that?” He asked, “You know that, cunt?” The door sprang open, but not all the way. Becky had it chained. There was the uppity slut herself, but she wasn’t dressed as she had been—tube top, miniskirt, gstring peeping out. She’d been as shameless as Eve then, but now she was in sweats, a gray, wrinkly column. Becky
was at home in those sweats, like she’d worn them every day since she was born, and the bruise was there too, the size and color of a rancid pork chop, louder than any accusation. “Leave, or I’m calling the cops,” she said, cordless phone in hand. He could hear the dial tone. Brent’s life was a string of defeats, and what had been an infrequent sting was now a constant stab. He had listened to the men around town testify about their rosycheeked glory days—the drunks and the twelve steppers alike. As they lifted their voices and tripped to the hideyhole of the way things were thirty years ago, their eyes fogging like bakery windows blurred with lard. It was their way of quitting the torture of the present, the dominion of their jobs, the failure of their marriages, and other things. They drank to cleanse themselves of their pain. They could rattle off stats like chapter and verse but always paused to listen to a winning QB’s post-game interview. Brent had
studied at their feet and thought them great, but he knew them for what they really were: pathetic. So was Brent. He knew when he was beat, and Brent threw up his hands and stumbled away, recovering before he fell. Becky kept the door ajar to verify his withdrawal, and just as he turned his back on her dark, lifeless eyes, he heard Becky call out. “Murphy!” she said. “No!” Brent turned and saw a little dog slip out the door like a racehorse from a starting gate. His coloring was cream poured into coffee, black and brown commas. There was no reasoning with the fur ball. Becky’s orders went unobeyed, and Murphy charged. The pest was something Brent usually found lodged in the U-bend under the sink at home. He was a mean, prissy son of a bitch, high-stepped like a Lipizzaner stallion when he was just an oversized dust bunny. He scurried up to Brent, stopped short, yapped and snarled as if he was blind to his puniness. Murphy leapt,
haunches flexing, and Brent’s mouth hardened into a line. He had to keep moving his feet to avoid squishing the dog, toes pointed, legs tucked in alternating knee-ups. Any other time and Brent would’ve put it out of his mind— the wailing, the barks, the scratch of nails on his pants—but his patience was on E. The yips and yelps blared louder than usual through the megaphone of alcohol. The nails ripped like talons. Brent’s eyes swelled to the size of grapefruits, the bones of his sockets too small to house them. Fire pulsed and danced along the sweep of his vision. Lights blinked on and off in the darkling yard scape. His thoughts were a force of nature, something to be withstood, and he waited for them to settle. Brent wanted to go home, to bed, never wake up, but Murphy persisted. Brent tried to snatch Murphy’s collar, deliver him to his owner who stood outside her door. Becky cheered on her panting defender, and Murphy bounded into the air as
Brent bent over. Pincer teeth snagged the juicy, hairless flank of his right hand and drew blood. Whatever method of retaliation Brent chose would’ve been excessive, but the fact he shot his leg out quick and fierce as a mule didn’t help. It was all reflex. Brent had never thought of himself as a teacher, but the spade point of his boot taught Murphy a lesson which he recited in hellish, tongue-tied pleas. His foot cracked Murphy’s ribs, and blood flowed out unimpeded by the usual wrappings of muscle, skin, and fur. Brent sucked on his hand as Murphy bled out like something in the backroom of a butcher shop. Startled, dying, the dog’s anger rolled away as his bladder watered the ground. He limped home in time to Brent’s thudding heartbeat, crouched at the doorstep, and licked Becky’s slippered foot. Brent hadn’t meant for this, had meant to leave, maybe come back later, sober, but not now or ever again,
not with that dog’s blood-sputtering airway bleating a broken tune. Becky screamed and stooped, collecting Murphy into her arms, and he got on with dying. His small, black eyes shrank into the vast inner darkness of his skull, and his short, sad life six inches off the ground was over. Murphy shouldn’t have bit his hand, but what was an animal to do? The same went for Brent. He began to laugh and cry, both coming from that mutual source of fatigue and rage. There was more of one than the other, but he couldn’t say which. His legs twitched to leave, and he let them pull him away. * Brent clamped his foot on the accelerator, told his car to go, and it did. He wanted to believe he’d reflect on this moment in good humor someday, saying “Remember that time I killed that dog?” It would be a real hoot, a nopun-intended gut-buster, but there was time for that later.
An aluminum surf lapped and sloshed around his feet as his old Ford blitzed the ranked and pressing darkness. Brent had come to atone in his poor, miscalculated way, but his words and deeds lay like playing cards after a game of fifty-two pickup. He didnâ€™t know whether to gather them, match the edges, and deal, or leave them be. He shot into the night, muttering, pounding the steering wheel with his injured hand. Regrets rained down in the dry reaches of his sorry-ass soul, but to no effect. He was a goner, and so sped toward what little remained of his future.
The Midnight Wastes of Heaven By A.J. Huffman
In this dark I am god. Small "g." (But working to improve.) I improvise dream scapes. And nightmares too. Whatever they favor. (This week I am oiled to the hilt.) But never mind the naughty. Power is the key. Game one: exploration. Use bodies like maps. Pilfer, plunder, plunge yourself in. To the elbows if necessary. Sanitation holds no place in conquest. Game two: reclamation. Finders keepers. Losers wear the scars. (I tend to abuse my imagination. So pretty little teeth-scapes could be very en vogue this year.) Game three: retreat. Get in. Get off. Get out. Men have always had the right idea. (If seldom the proper execution.) Elusivity is the word of the hour/day/week. And trial (by fire?) is the only way to achieve mastery. At any level,
End game is still the goal. So rinse, re-skin, and repeat. As needed. (Or, if you prefer, simply as enjoyed.)
Be the Body By Matthew Funk
We found the body in a flood-bent house off Pleasure Street. It slouched on a Mardi Gras throne, heatswollen, dappled black skin splitting like a bad sausage. Five minutes we stared at it, wet-eyed, while it stared back with sockets stuffed with dry, gray jelly. I was the first to reach through the scatter of hobo rags and Parade Day pretty—all them factory-made purple feathers and plastic rainbow beads. I was first to touch it.
On New Year’s Days before Katrina, my Mama would buy hot links, $9.99 for fifteen pounds at the whitewashed brick market on Montegutt. She’d throw then in the gumbo. Boil cheap links like that, the casing slides off and the fat runs out the sponge of the meat.
The body was like cheap meat boiled too long. My finger didn’t dent its chest. It sank in as the skin slipped around.
Nobody cried over that. The four of us that day— Dantrell, Gus, Arvin and me, Chris—we were tough boys. Crying about things like that is only human, so in Desire, you’re all cried out before you’re tying your own shoes. The tears just pile up from then. They push against you. Straighten your back. Prop your eyes open. Put your heart in their fist so it don’t move. My finger went into the body. They all saw. They all had to touch it next. They had to prove they wouldn’t split open.
We all got to touching. We poked. We pushed. We circled around the Mardi Gras throne, through the spilled beads and berry branches and little, black baby
dolls in their crowns, poking the stink out of that body, laughing, talking shit. We all went home to different dinners: Dantrell to his bowl of lard gravy. Gus to his sixth day of beans and eggs. Arvin to half a cheeseburger picked out of the McDonaldâ€™s dumpster. Me to pork knuckle, plain boiled. Not a one of us talked about the body. Every one of us thought about it. We met there the next day without nobody having to set up the meet.
All that week, we got inventive. Somebody had dumped Mardi Gras swag spoiled by the storm there. We had beads to drip from its fingers. Jester sticks to beat it. Lace leaves for the muddy stalks of his hobo hair, feathers for the gaps in his teeth, boas all over.
Once Dantrell put the crown on the body, things turned nasty. We took up sticks drizzling ants and stabbed his cheeks. Hit his arms with his bottles of Thunderbird until the meat ran off like turkey gravy. We threw dirt and kicked and yelled with our lips right up on him. We hadn’t spoken much during all this before, but we got to yelling then.
We had to be real quiet each night at home. Gus got screamed at for not bringing the salt to the table fast enough, for leaving it there too long, for everything he did or said except, “Sorry, Mama.” Arvin got growled at for looking so much like his run-off daddy, his drunk Mama putting her feet over his face while he tried to watch TV on the floor by her chair.
Dantrell had a daddy, but he was a juicer, and he’d throw punches, throw things, throw his boy around while hollering he should be a man. I don’t remember what I got yelled at for. I don’t want to remember. We yelled all this out at the body every day, though. We called him nigger as we hit him. We called him boy and pulled his clothes. We called him fool and laughed so angry spit lashed onto his skin. We did every violence we could to that body, except push him from his throne. He vanished one morning all the same.
That was the last time we cried. It broke us to see him gone. It was like losing the one thing we had. It made us scared again. We couldn’t have that.
It made us scared one of us had told, or took the body, or just wished it away so hard that it left. It made us scared of each other. We couldn’t have that either. I sat in the throne first. It was the only way I saw to make things right. I slid onto the slime of the seat. I put my hands up on the throne’s ant-swarmed arms. I didn’t move or say a thing, just let that evil stink soak into me. I didn’t have to say a thing—they all started yelling all on their own. Nobody at home asks about the stains on our clothes. Nobody at school or church or the welfare shop asks about the bruises. Nobody cries when it’s their turn on the throne. Not even when the sticks slash near our eyes. We’re tough. We’re Desire boys. We get it how we live. It’s not so hard being the body.
In My Own Little World By Angela Khristin Brown
i lie hidden underneath this mass ovations trickling high consumed within my own world a metaphor for an alibi i lie hidden underneath this mask identify a hidden past muddled confusion; a simile of failed accomplishments to be misunderstood in a world full of progress
Death of a Patriarch By Lee Wright
Ever the dutiful wife, she had cut short her vacation in Belize and jetted back to the states as soon as she got the news that he was dying. The call had come, as expected, from his assistant. His three children and seven grandchildren (all older than she) had stopped speaking to her weeks before the Vegas wedding and, when she had rushed past them on the way to keep a vigil at his deathbed, they had literally turned their backs on her. Now, as she sat watching the slow, arrhythmic rise and fall of his thin chest and the weak pulsing of a vein in his gnarled hand, she knew the whole family was just down the hall, huddled with their cadre of high rent lawyers in the patriarchâ€™s fire-lit office. Their goal was an open secret: find a way to nullify the Old Manâ€™s will or to drag the execution of it out so long that the bleached and tattooed ex-stripper would have no choice but to take a relative
pittance of a settlement. They probably thought five or ten million would make her happy, but they might even be willing to part with as much as twenty. After all, in spite of the sixty year age difference (or perhaps because of it), she had made the Old Man’s final years bearable. And surely she realized that, even with more plastic surgery, she couldn’t get by on her looks forever, and that the acting career hadn’t really panned out, had it? And how much did she really deserve for doing little more than being a parttime whore for a man sixty years her senior? But why should she settle for a handful of millions when she could have literally billions? Besides, she had developed something of a fondness for the horny old coot. He was generally kind to her. Maybe he even loved her. He certainly treated her well enough. It was almost a shame that she had to kill him. But, really, how much longer could she go without a physically satisfying relationship? She was only human.
He, it seemed, might be more than human. His resistance to the poison sheâ€™d put in his beloved Indian tea was remarkable. The guy in Haiti had assured her that, although it was completely undetectable in an autopsy, just a pinch meant certain death within a week or two. And, even if his doctors (the best in the world, naturally) had somehow figured out what was frying his nervous system, there was no known antidote. He had been doomed from the first sip. She stood and crossed to the wet bar in the corner. The heavy drapes were open, providing a magnificent view of the acres of garden below as she poured herself a scotch. Of course, the drink was magnificent. Smooth and textured, with a gentle, warming kick. She savored two glasses as she watched the sun set beyond the high, marble wall. In the five interminable years of her marriage, she had learned to live as a pariah both at home and in the public eye. It didnâ€™t bother her because she had been despised for most of her life. In a few more hours (a few days at the
most), none of that would matter. She would have everything she’d ever wanted and could have anyone she ever wanted. She only had to persevere. As the last light of the day faded and the shadows lengthened in the garden, she turned to look at him again. He lay in the middle of a massive bed, swaddled in the finest silk sheets. Above him hung the head of the first lion he’d killed. The house was full of such trophies, but this one had been the first. He was all about firsts. The glass case on the wall opposite his bed was crammed with more mementoes, each representing a first triumph. There was the football he’d carried for his first touchdown in college, the first dollar he’d earned, the golf ball with which he scored his first hole-in-one, and trophy after trophy after trophy. The only first that was missing was his first wife, the dearly departed virgin from the small town in Georgia. Her picture had been removed at the request of the new wife. It was the only time she had seen him cry.
She refilled her glass and went to sit by him. It was really great scotch—darker, richer and smoother than anything she’d ever had. But then he always had the best of everything—and that included her. Maybe it was just the alcohol, but her eyes misted as she watched the life seep from him. She was genuinely going to miss him. So she told him. She didn’t know if he could hear, but she felt compelled to talk. She told him everything except that she had poisoned his tea. He hadn't moved or spoken in weeks but, as she reached over to touch the thin vein slowly pulsating in his hand, his eyes fluttered open halfway and he said, “I didn’t know you liked Scotch.” Stunned, she nodded. “I do. And this is the best I’ve ever had.” He smiled and breathed his final words: “The secret is, I mix in a little Indian tea.”
Vermin and the Man By John Grey
You watch ants crawling across the kitchen table. One totes a crumb. Two more act as bodyguards. It's life on a Lilliputian level. More action, more endeavor, more achievement, than in your banal existence. And there's that cockroach in the sink, up through the drain and into the basin, tiny whiskers digging for ore in unwashed dinner plates. If only you had their perseverance. And there's that mouse again, scrambling from cupboard to back of refrigerator to the hole beside the stove with a cornflake crumpled in its jaw. Such agility, such purpose in life. The rodents have you there. Eighty years old and nothing to do but drink coffee, listen to talk radio, play solitaire, and watch these indefatigable invaders. You've tried poisons, sprays, laying traps. But none of them have worked. You're still here.
The Oboist By David Oâ€™Connell
First of all, the whole oboe thing had never been my choice. My mother, bless her heart, had a real obsession with classical music. She had been an accomplished oboist in a regional orchestra, but had given it up when she met my father. The root note, no doubt, of incredible bitterness, because my father disappeared with his guitar one night when I was three and vanished without a trace. With dad gone, she took a job manning the cosmetics counter at the Macyâ€™s in the county mall, where Mozart and Schubert made way for Muzak, lipstick, and smooth jazz. Music then became something piped in over pale gallery floors, where legions of meandering shoppers snacked on Cinnabons. Her music, the kind that moved in her like the frenzied rise and urgent outburst of a Liszt accelerando, became something looped, tamed, slowed down to a crawl. It all seemed lost, or nearly lost, beneath the stampede of
shoppers wandering over from Bon Ton, reeking of Yankee Candle and Panda Express. But it wasn’t really lost; it was simply delayed. My mother’s musical dreams flared up again, rather impulsively, seven years later, kindled, no doubt, by a PBS telecast of Die Zauberflote, starring that incredible bearded bulk, Luciano Pavarotti. She came to a conclusion that night; her son would be worldly, like Luciano, but maybe not quite so obese. He certainly would not wander through America’s malls, eating hot dogs from sticks. Her son would be cultivated. He would appreciate long dead German’s with a penchant for wigs, powder, and snuff addictions. When I told her none of that really interested me, that I really wanted to play the guitar, she dismissed the idea with a wave. In her mind, the guitar was a gateway drug and a straight road to degeneracy. So it was decided. I would study the oboe, and for the next few years, she dragged me to music lessons.
My first teacher, Roy Reyes, who mostly taught saxophone to a chorus-line of Yarmulke wearing Jewish boys, didn’t work out for three reasons: One: he had a severe case of Halitosis. Two: he was only marginally interested in the oboe. And three: perhaps worst of all, he had a real obsession with Kenny G. In fact, there were pictures all over the rehearsal room of him standing next to Kenny. In one of the pictures, Mr. G stood next to Michael Bolton, blowing his horn with all the soul his soft jazz lungs could muster. It was signed: “Dear Roy…thanks for all the love this evening.” What made these lessons even more unendurable than the “love” between Roy and Kenny was the fact that, every day, my route to and from lessons took me past the music shop on Ferndale Avenue. There in the front shop window hung a gorgeous panther black Gibson Les Paul with silver pick-ups. Twice a day, I would look longingly at its beautiful long neck, wide fret board, and its mother-of-
pearl position markers. I would imagine myself transforming into a hybrid of James Williamson and Mick Ronson, banging my guitar and unleashing crunchy, raunchy, and barbaric power chords. By the end of my twenty-five minute guitar solo, I would be buried under a burgeoning avalanche of bras and panties and all the roadies and guitar techs would have to help dig me out. Mick Ronson, I remembered, had ditched the cello and piano for the guitar when he was twelve (his teacher, I figured, must have had a Liberace fetish). The time, in other words, seemed ripe if I hoped to kick-start my guitar god career. It was time to get rid of Roy. When I complained bitterly about him to my mother, she initially said, “give the man a chance…he’s supposed to be the best teacher in town.” But even she became increasingly skeptical when I started coming home playing mostly Kenny G originals on the oboe. She expected “The Turkish March,” “The Magic Flute,” and the
whole house awash with the spirit of 18th century Vienna, but instead, she had to endure the elevator sounds of saccharine Seattle white-boy jazz. I saw in all of this an opportunity for payback and maybe a way out. I started to practice as loudly as possible, experimenting with the full squawking and shrieking range of the oboe. After a few weeks of this, she weakened, and even seemed ready to give up. “It was time for a change,” she said. But that change only meant that my time with Roy Reyes, Kenny G, and Michael Bolton was over. Stubborn as ever, she said that “it was merely a matter of finding the right teacher.” My second teacher, Sandy Duncan, worked out for three years. Like Roy, I initially hated her too. We surprised her during the first appointment due to some scheduling mix-up. She had forgotten to put her dentures back in, so when she opened the door and I saw her for the first time, I thought for sure I was looking at the evil old hag from Snow White. Her ancient home had that palpable
old lady with eight cats smell, and when I saw a bowl full of deep, red apples, I felt sure this was another mistake. But aside from the suspicious apples, she seemed to be a relatively harmless elderly widow; she had lost a son to a drunken driving accident, and these facts made her at least more sympathetic than “Mr. Kenny G Groupie.” When she told my mother I reminded her of her dear son Frank, I felt the jaws of the bear trap shut. I don’t remember much about our lessons. What I remember mostly is becoming the old bat’s indentured servant. She soon called our house every other day, asking my mother for my help with various odd-jobs around the house. “It’s good to have a handsome young man around,” she would say. Mrs. Duncan always had an endless assortment of tasks and projects, and my mother was more than willing to loan me out. Rather than sleeping in late and drooling over a bowl of Frosted Flakes in front of the TV, my mornings were spent mowing lawns, rearranging
furniture, painting walls, reorganizing her massive collection of garish glass gnome and frog figurines, and perhaps best of all, I would often clean her three cat litter boxesâ€”who knew that eight cats could produce a square ton of shit every day? I even, on at least one occasion, after her oldest and crankiest cat, Mordred, broke out in an angry and mysterious rash, had to rub a thick and pungent yellow ointment across its bloated belly. It sounded like a quick job, but the old bastard hated to be touched, and it would hiss and strike at me mercilessly with its sharp claws. By the time I finished the rub-down, my hand looked like a sieve. My reward for all of this wasnâ€™t free lessons mind you, but free food. She insisted on cooking for me. When I ate the meals she prepared, I wondered if there was something more to the tragic and premature departures of old Mr. Duncan and son. Everything was thrown together in a bizarre medley. Hot dogs were served without buns
over cauliflower, brussel-sprouts, carrots and corn bread. She would crudely dump gallons of Manwich Sloppy Joe cans into a large pan and serve the Sloppy Joe mix without the buns. A native of Philadelphia, she savored Scrapple, and often served me heaping piles of pig lips, pig penis, and pig tongue all smashed together in a wet mush. I was sure she was determined to fatten me and feed me to her oven. For over three years I endured endless odd-jobs and vomit-inducing meals. Then one day, while we were going over Strauss’s “Six Metamorphoses,” she had a massive stroke, keeled to the floor, and died before the ambulance reached the hospital. She was 92 years old, and other than me, my mother, one of her bridge partners, and two septuagenarian nephews, the pews at St. Mary’s Catholic Church were conspicuously bare. As we pulled away from the church, I figured the oboe chapter of my life must be
closed finally. It was still not too late to become the next Mick Ronson. About a week later my Mick Ronson dream suffered another serious setback. My mother’s Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto was disrupted by a phone call. It was the executor of Mrs. Duncan’s estate. It seemed that Mrs. Duncan had left me a special gift in her will. The gift was none other than her rare Eichentopf oboe, an instrument carved and shaped by the master 18th century Dresdener craftsman himself out of a rare variety of boxwood. It was an exceedingly generous gift, and one I resented immediately. Already, my mother had seen to it that I signed up for the high school symphony (I was entering my Freshman year), and I was soon blasting such bitching classics as “Tutti Flutti,” “Smoke on the Water,” and “Don’t Stop Believing” at school recitals all over the county. Our conductor, Mr. Cavalli, an aged, anal, bald and
grouchy Tuscan immigrant, who, rumor had it, had once been a Black Shirt strong-man in Mussolini’s regime, had a penchant for launching large projectiles of spittle whenever we butchered “his songs.” Fortunately, the middle school had a fairly loose attendance policy, and Ryan Hopkins, the first chair saxophonist and I managed to cut class for a while to smoke Camel cigarettes and chew Redman tobacco under the baseball bleachers. But, Mr. Cavalli, perhaps acting on tips, or perhaps realizing that I was his only oboe player, soon caught on and called our parents. When I returned to school after a brief suspension, I was angry and had every intention of sabotaging the orchestra. In fact, while the band tore through a rousing rendition of the “Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back, I blasted staccato fart sounds through my oboe. Suddenly, I could see Mr. Cavalli’s jaw clench; his forehead turned a blazing crimson. He shouted at the band to stop, pointed the
baton menacingly at me, stared me down with his frost-blue Tuscan eyes, and made a rather declarative proclamation. “I have been conducting music for thirty years, and I must say, young man, that you are a weasel and a conniving little shit!” The class got really quiet then. I could feel my blood boil and I broke into a sweat. I could feel the burn of everyone’s stares, wondering what would happen next. But next never happened. At that moment, there was a knock at the door. The Vice Principal, Mr. Davis, entered the room escorting a new freshman girl. She had long, shimmering curtains of red-gold hair, eyes like deep water lakes, and lovely, petal-full lips. Her name was Crystal Schley and she played the bassoon. While I did not know many bassoon players, I have to imagine that she was easily the most attractive woman to ever play that underappreciated instrument. Not to mention,
she was really, really good. She could flick like a pro; hit the high D in Rite of Spring, and the low A in Mahler’s Symphony Number Five. She quickly climbed the bassoon ranks to first chair, which meant that she inched closer and closer to me during rehearsal. From time to time, I would watch her; see her cheeks inflated like a bullfrog’s (she apparently was from the Dizzy Gillespie school of Bassoonists), blowing expertly and effortlessly on that big, ugly horn. And yet, somehow, in spite of those swollen cheeks, she remained infallibly beautiful, her tone perfect, her mouth and lungs the keeper of a divine musical wind, capable of smashing sea-born fleets, or, just as skillfully, suddenly calm that storm-wind until it whistled softly through vineyards, oak groves, and fields of sun-ripened wheat. “God, I wish she would somehow notice me,” I thought. Too shy to speak to her at first, it was not until the bus ride down to the Spring Symphony Finals in San Diego that I finally had my chance.
She had arrived late for the departure, and it just so happened that the only seat left in the bus was the one next to mine. After a few awkward introductions and silences I asked her where she was from. “Everywhere,” she said. “What do you mean?” I asked. “I mean just that. I’m an Army brat. I’ve lived everywhere.” Over the next four hours, she talked about the life of an Army brat, living in Australia, Italy, Germany, England, and Japan. Her stories sounded like gypsy folk-ballads, rolling with images, impressions, and precocious expression. Perhaps afraid of the silence that ended this story and anxious to keep the narrative engine moving, she moved more rapidly now, from story to story, place to
place, ranging over oceans and continents, friends quickly made and quickly lost, little dogs loved and then given away in the constant movement and passage. She also told me about the Bassoon. “I chose it,” she said. Her mother had taken her to a Christkindlmarkt in a small village on the edge of the Black Forest like something out of a Grimm’s fairy tale. It was very cold, with the scent of snow on the wind, so the mother bought her some hot Gluwein, and they walked together through the market admiring the hand-carved cuckoo clocks, gingerbread castles, and Christmas ornaments. Above the din of market goers, cash registers, and cuckoo clocks, there was the sound of a symphony playing somewhere off in the distance. They only heard it faintly at first; they followed the sound to its mysterious source. As they inched closer, it became clear that the sound was pouring out of the old Bavarian church at the end of the market square. The air was beginning to bite,
and they were drawn in by the prospect of warmth and music. When they entered the church, her mother tried to draw her attention to the beautiful stain glass, the intricate wood statues of saints, the elaborate white marble of the altar, but Crystal was transfixed by the orchestra, namely the bassoon. While everyone else probably heard the chief lords and ladies of the orchestra—the violin, flute, and trumpet—she quickly isolated the sound of the bassoon, shut her eyes, and followed its sonic thread throughout the piece (a Mahler symphony she remembered). It appealed instantly to her. “There was something about the sound,” she said. “I don’t know…this sounds embarrassingly sentimental, but it must have reminded me of my father’s voice. My mother tried to talk me out of it. She thought it sounded awful. ‘Why not a flute, a piccolo, or a cello?’ she pleaded. But I ignored her. My mind was made up. I
wanted a bassoon, and so there it was under the Christmas tree within a week.” Crystal not only was a natural story-teller, but she had a way of elevating everything she had seen in all the lives she had already lived. Her language, like music, transformed landscapes. There were Eucalyptus leaves “like prisms,” “ghostly birch woods,” and the “speckled trout that appeared and then disappeared beyond the fernchoked shores of mountain rivers.” Since I had nothing to offer, no fascinating experiences, no enchanting and ethereal images, I simply listened, content to live in her images and through her experiences, certain that she saw something reassuring and trust-worthy in me. I began to imagine both of us walking together hand-in-hand through that quaint Bavarian village, eating fresh gelato along Lake Como’s shore, and cresting Mt. Fuji’s summit. This whole future of infinite music and broad, fresh landscapes seemed to open up, or so I thought.
The music stopped on the Friday night after the football game. My friends and I were hungry for cheeseburgers, so a few of us piled into my buddyâ€™s Dodge Dart and drove down to In-N-Out Burger. As we pulled into the parking lot, I saw a horrific sight, akin to watching the slow, ritualistic rape of a unicorn. There, right out in front of the restaurant, embroiled in a shameless exhibition, was my darling Crystal making out with Mike Kelly, up along the gutter, next to the inky black hood of his Pontiac GTO. I should have closed my eyes or turned away, but instead, I stood there stunned, watching his hands work their way down the small of her back, resting finally, where the waist meets the hip. I waited there for a minute, for some vague reason. Perhaps I hoped the whole scene to vanish like a horrible mirage, or maybe I hoped that she would break his spell, shoo away his wandering tentacles, pull her hand back, and then suddenly, the hand would swing forward, cutting the air with a hiss, and with a
lacerating “WHACK!” across his cheek, send him bloodied and reeling back into the slimy abyss of gutter. It didn’t happen that way though. Shockingly, she didn’t seem to mind any of this. She moved her hands and nested them in his. Sweet Jesus, Crystal! I thought. Why did it have to be Mike Kelly of all people? Mike Kelly, the most notorious poop-dick in the entire school. He was a senior who, like most predators, targeted the youthful and innocent. If the rumors were half true, he had slept through a 100 women before his junior year. Not only that, Mike was a shameless boaster about his carnal exploits; he had a penchant for telling all, leaving no details unturned, and destroying reputations while elevating his own. After gym class, I would see him holding court in front of his pack of meatheads, booming out words like “boned,” “banged,” “balled,” and “cum-dumpster.” I could not reconcile my Crystal with that language. Those words kept swirling in
my mind. They seemed to settle and shape themselves into a murky pit of muck. Crystal suddenly appeared then, floating first and then falling into that pit. The mud and shit slowly swallowed, dimmed, and blackened her red-gold hair. And then I could only see her face with those lovely lips, lips that generated walls of baritone sound, that wove elevated yarns out of the muck of the earth, and that chimed with images of dreams and landscapes; it all vanished into that black mire. Before she disappeared, those lips momentarily floated and lingered on the surface, still weaving beauty in futility. The whole next week during rehearsals, I tried to ignore Crystal and stifle the images of all the filthy things that Mike Kelly was subjecting her to. The sight of her blowing on that big bassoon now repulsed me. The whole thing was becoming too much. I decided, that Friday, to make a move to end my orchestra career once and for all. My solution was simple. I just sat there and stopped
playing during Haydn’s 12th Symphony in B Flat. No one noticed at first, but when we came to the oboe solo, the only oboe solo in the repertoire, I felt all eyes on me. For those of you not familiar with Haydn’s 12th, the oboe rises up the scale while the orchestra falls silent; it is like a sound bridge out of a dismal swamp of Bass, Bassoon, and Tympani, elevating the listener to the alpine heights of flute, piccolo, and violin. Without the oboe, in other words, there is no bridge, there is no swamp, there are no alpine heights. The orchestra simply falls into nothing. So there it was, the rolling and rising thunder of the Tympani accompanied by the deep, monotone whine of the bass, and suddenly, after their dual decrescendo fades, there is nothing. Everything falls silent. “What is your problem, young man?” said Mr. Cavalli. “I’m sorry; I must have forgotten my part, sir.”
“Let’s do it one more time—from the beginning.” When I refused to play the second time, Mr. Cavalli had had enough. He seemed to explode with the force of a split atom. “So you like to play nothing, huh? Look you little shit, I don’t know what you are trying to do here, but never in all my years have I seen such a little motherfucker!” After he called me a little motherfucker, I got up, stormed out, and slammed the door on Mr. Cavalli and his Black-Shirt orchestra for good. That night, back at home, I told my mother exactly what Mr. Cavalli said. I made sure to omit everything about refusing to play, and about all those times I made staccato fart noises. When she heard the part about “motherfucker,” something inside her snapped and she transformed into a mother cave bear. She marched up the stairs, called Mr. Cavalli, and much to my surprise; he picked up the phone.
I could hear her light into him, demanding an explanation, an apology, and a general accounting for what justified a grown man and accomplished musician to speak to her teenage son that way. I grinned and licked my lips thinking about Mr. Cavalli having his sorry Italian ass handed to him. Having to swallow his pride and craft a sincere sounding apology. I was so sure of this that I began to debate whether I would accept his apology gracefully or shun him with self-righteous contempt. I was about to decide upon the latter when the conversation upstairs grew quiet. Suddenly, they seemed to be talking in hushed tones. The dialogue seemed civil, almost friendly. “No,” I thought. “I must be hearing it all wrong,” but then, at that moment, I heard what seemed to be the unmistakable sound of my mother’s laugh reverberating through the house. It occurred to me that maybe my mother wasn’t letting him have it at all.
My fears were confirmed an hour later when my mother hung up the phone and came downstairs. “Mr. Cavalli said he is sincerely sorry for losing his temper today; however, I got the distinct impression, young man, that you really pressed his buttons. No matter what, you need to be nice—please just try to be pleasant.” “Pleasant! Why would I want to be pleasant? The man is an asshole and a tyrant!” “He’s not an asshole. He’s a passionate musician with high standards. He’s just a perfectionist. All great musicians are perfectionists. Look at Beethoven. You cannot expect a brilliant man to be easy on you. Just try to think about how much you can learn from a perfectionist. Besides, you could use some toughening up.” With that, I stormed up the stairs to my room and slammed the door. I knew that Mr. Cavalli had successfully
conned my poor mother and gotten the best of me with the whole bullshit passionate artist spiel. Over the next week, I returned to the orchestra and reluctantly played my oboe without passion, just merely going through the motions. Mr. Cavalli, strangely, didnâ€™t seem to notice. Maybe, I thought, he is afraid my mother might call the principal, the District Superintendant, or the State Senator if he curses me out again. I began to feel invulnerable.I plotted an entirely new musical direction. After school that day, I skipped afternoon basketball practice, feigning a migraine, and rode my bicycle to the music store near Ferndale Avenue. The black Gibson Les Paul was still on display in the window. I went inside, and the old shop-keeper, who looked a little like David Crosby and sounded a little like Vincent Price, looked up from a dog-eared copy of Maxim. I showed him my rare Eichentopf oboe and his eyes lit up at the sight of smooth, hand-carved boxwood and sterling silver keys. â€œCan I hold
it?” he asked, gnawing and chewing on his lower lip. I handed it to him and he ran his hands back and forth over all that smooth wood as if he were handling the voluptuous curves of a Betty Paige. When I asked him about the Gibson, his mind seemed miles away. Of course he couldn’t trade such an expensive instrument. It had belonged, rumor had it, to Mr. Les Paul himself, or at least one of his guitar techs (the shop-keeper couldn’t quite remember), but he offered to trade me a gold-colored Mexican Fender for the oboe instead. He would even throw in a Marshall Amp. “It was quite a deal,” he said, oblivious to the pools of spittle gathering at the corners of his mouth. I don’t know if it was simply the spittle that grossed me out, or the way he pawed at my oboe, but I couldn’t look anymore. I trained my eyes on the floor, following the grimy grout-lines, trying not to think about the exchange, the shop-keeper’s yellowed finger-nails sliding over the silver keys, or what I was giving away, but it was no use.
Leaving that shop, I felt like the train after a Jesse James train robbery. Outside in the natural light the guitar wasn’t even gold but a puke yellow. A strat for an oboe. No, not just an oboe, but a rare oboe. One that had, after all, been built and hand-crafted by the same people who created Beethoven, Bayreuth, and the most virulent form of fascism. It all nearly sunk me, but I knew it would really piss my mother off. She would be furious with me. I could already see the rivers of disappointment pouring out of her tear ducts, streaking and smearing her mascara. But I didn’t care what she said or did anymore. And in that spirit, I arrived home and nearly threw open the door. Entering the living room, I knew something was wrong. My momentary bravado surrendered to caution. I stood still. I listened. I heard voices coming from the kitchen, rising up above the lush landscape of Beethoven’s Last Symphony. One of the voices was my mother’s, and although I couldn’t place the other voice, it sounded very
familiar. I walked into the kitchen, and there, right in front of me, was that bald black-shirt, Mr. Cavalli, holding court, filling my motherâ€™s glass with ruby Pinot, and sending her into ecstatic heights and titillating fits of laughter. I had not heard her laugh like this in a long time. The old, wooden Emerson record player spun her favorite Beethoven vinyl; it was the Berlin Philharmonic, recorded under the great dome of Koln Cathedral. So deeply ensconced were they in the music, wine, and conversation that they didnâ€™t seem to notice me, standing in the kitchen doorway, or anything else. Before they could notice, I slammed the door behind me, stomped through the living room, grabbed my new guitar, jumped on my bicycle, and pedaled madly away towards East Beach. When I got there, the tide was high and I could see the Egrets and the shore birds wading through the water, jabbing their greedy bills down into the water at harmless,
helpless fish and crustaceans. I just sat there watching the waves crash against the shore. How did I get here? What was I going to do? Did I deserve this? I wondered. I began a thorough recapitulation of everything starting from the beginning. A sunbeam broke through the clouds and lighted on the waves in front of me. It lit up the sea-screen like an old film projector. I seemed to hallucinate suddenly, seeing a flurry of imagery roll across the water’s surface. I saw a younger version of my mother, gently rocking a sleeping baby (me) in a crib; confident that I was fast asleep, she slammed shut her oboe case for the last time and packed it away in a dark corner of the basement. I saw my father steal away in the night on his Triumph motorcycle, a guitar case draped across his back. I saw Roy and Kenny, playing “Songbird” together; I saw old Mrs. Duncan, who had given me an almost priceless instrument, only to have me trade it away for a Mexican Stratocaster. I saw Crystal Schley walking away hand-in-hand with Mike Kelly,
through the cobbled streets of that Black Forest village; her bassoon abandoned in a gutter. I saw Mr. Cavalli, wearing a Black Shirt, waving his baton, and pumping vigorously away at dear old mom. I grabbed the guitar suddenly, and flung it out to sea. It floated briefly and as the waves washed over its neck, body, and vein-like strings, they plucked a strange final chord, somewhere between a jangle and a whisper. The sound lingered over the water momentarily, before the guitar sunk, vanished, and plunged, finally, beneath the sound-worn waves.
Rot By Brandon Figliolino
In the wonders of the wood Sat rot. In the form of an old tree, The rot sought nothing more Than to decompose Into the soils of Mother. Maggots and termites delight, The tree succumbs to its demise. The Son shall never rise, Death is imminent. Lion roars, leopard darts, wolf cries There will be no return. No, leniency must not be given! Do not allow the rot to wither into obscurity Instead, it must be embraced Cherished, and nurtured out of a state of dilapidation. Allow Virgil the opportunity to guide, He shall lead the rot to salvation, Ascension to the skies. Rebirth and renewal, Married and joined as one. Lean on each other To create something anew. A crafted man enters the wood, Scouring the brush for hope, He finds it in the form of Rot.
He dismembers the rot, A fair portion returns to his workshop The rest, stay to die in agony, pain penetrating through their age lines. Only the heart can be salvaged. The man works with little difficulty, Stripping away the bark It is now smooth The decay dismayed and banished to the fires. Chisel at hand, He goes to work, Taking care to the minute details Especially the wings; each feather wondrous and intricate The art of the craft lies within the imagination, The difference between those who fabricate beauty, And othersâ€™ monsters, Lies within the scrutiny of details. The man finishes the face, gleaming with poise. He gives the woman a sweeping dress, She is near completion, The pains of his labor. As a final addition, he carves out a dove in her hands, Wings extended outward towards the skies. Then applies a varnish and a prayer, Setting her atop the fireplace mantle. He shall call her Grace.
Poverty By Olubunmi Bolarin
It stared them in the face as if daring them to be rid of it it made a mockery of them every step of the way One garment day in and out in the midst of flashy colors and spring like pastels It haunted them in the dark when power was out for lack of payment it taunted them as if daring them to do something about it and laughed in their faces when they sat motionless Unable to speak or refute its presence Unable to move or break from its crippling effect breaking them in pieces night after night when empty refrigerators stared them in the dark It stared them in the face It called out to them in the night when stomachs rumbled and tiny tummies ached from hungry days and starved nights that had lost count and begun to feel â€œnormalâ€? It made a mockery of them as a whole and individually from the man of the house to the babe, innocent and unfortunate It stared them in the face day and night as if daring them to be rid of it
And when finally it had conquered in the physical it crept slowly like a disease into their minds and captured their thinking and illuminated the thought process that perhaps one day one of them could stare back at it and once and for all be rid of it It stared them in the face even in death it didnâ€™t relent but glared coldly, not giving a damn
In Sight By Salena Casha
You walk him to class every day, his arm looped through yours, careful to make sure he isn’t led astray into an open locker or accosted by an ill-placed foot. He wears sunglasses inside so no one can see his bleached eyes. You saw them though, the day he asked you for help on Algebra homework in study hall. He’d taken his Ray-Bans off to massage his temples and you saw them. They were so pale blue they could have been white. Your heart jumped in your chest because he was staring right at you, even though you knew he was blind. It’s better this way, you tell yourself. Because in what world would a blond-haired boy with tan skin and a lopsided smile ever look at you like that? He can’t see the way the other girls swoon over him, but you can. “Hi Caleb,” Stacey, the popular one from English Lit, says every time she passes his desk.
Once, he turned to you and said, “She smells nice. Like vanilla.” And you rolled your eyes and made sure his pencil fell from his desk. He probably felt your anger because he never said anything to you about her again. “I can’t believe he sits with her,” Stacey says one day, loud enough for you to hear. You bow your head, let your curly brown hair cascade in front of your face, a curtain behind which they can’t reach you, see how much their words hurt you. “Must be because he’s blind,” she finishes. “She’ll never get a date to prom,” another whispers. You’re blushing now, hand rising to ask Mrs. Lucas for the bathroom pass. And you wish that your mothers had never known each other or been friends, wish that Caleb’s mom had never taken you aside and asked you to make sure Caleb would be okay in his new school. “What is it, Marilyn?” The teacher asks.
At least you manage to say “bathroom” correctly. You stay in there, gripping the sink, trying not to cry until just before it’s time for history. You would have stayed in there all day but Caleb needs you. You grit your teeth and return to the classroom. And no matter how different you look or what they say about you, no one seems to notice that you’ve left. The chair creaks as you slide back into your seat and begin to pack your bag. A bell rings. The smell of vanilla enters your nose. “Mind if I take you to class?” Stacey asks Caleb. You can’t look at either of them through your stinging eyes. “I’ve got a perfect partner actually,” he says and turns to you. Your head lifts, your chest balloons. Stacey glares at you as you take his arm and he grabs his whitetipped cane.
And as you leave the classroom, loud enough for Stacey to hear, he turns toward you, smiles and says, â€œAny plans for prom?â€?
Fire By Zakk Flash
Your skin burns. I can smell the smoldering wick smoking the curved arch of your backâ€” the crackle of hot wax: You are a living flame. I am the torch bearer. I dream of you like the wood envisions fire. I want to burn, burn, burn your sap dry. I delight in your cloud-cloaked form, your lace-wrapped body, humid and wet. I pause to drink up your honey wine, crystal glass brimmingâ€” I stagger like a drunk. I wear your Yes on my lips. I want you to adorn me like a crown jewel. My skin shines diamonds. I molt my clothes like a shedding of yesterday. I wade into the delirious sunflower fields of your sheets. I want to pick your petals until you shake, to watch your leaves rustle in a moist wind, to hear the roses gasp for air. I am thrown in the tempest. Drown me in the downpour of your sigh:
dive after salt. water. nirvana. I will myself into liquid seduction. I melt like glaciers and groan like an ice-age thaw. Will your passion hiss as desire runs down your flame-kissed skin, licking up the ambrosia beneath? I want to make love to you in forests of firefly dream, dripping with moonlit dancers and scissortail song. I want to run my hands along your sides, soak up the melody of your mouth. I want to plant a garden inside you and explode in a wild thicket of colors, catch myself in a tangle of flowers. I will seize you like a bouquet of forget-me-nots. I will carry your scent in my nostrils. I will breathe you like the last light of day. I will plant laurel upon the mountain. I will sleep on the ocean's whisper. Grant me a glanceâ€”I will flash like a thunderstorm and I will fall upon you like a confession.
Black Fox Fiction Contest Winner: That’s How It Feels By Patty Hopkins
The last time I saw the man that I married, he was pleading with me to help him into bed. “Come on Susan, give me a hand.” I would not accommodate. As I headed out the door and down the hospital corridor, his pleading turned to red hot anger. “Damn you Susan, get back here and help me now!” “I swear to God woman...”
I was intimate with this anger. With trembling hands and awkward steps, I made my way past the nurse’s station. Their heads swiveled, first towards me, then towards his room.One of them actually smirked. I felt empowered. From the first day we arrived, I couldn’t stand their
pity. In the trappings of my home, my life of solitude, I had allowed myself to become devoid of emotion and concern for my appearance. In front of them, my hands flitted around my shapeless haircut and then across my mouth to conceal a broken tooth. My raggedy sneakers, no longer white, but dishwater gray, were a stark contrast to the bright floors. How they pitied me. It felt like they knew all about my life, my secrets. As the elevator descended, I felt a dizzying sense of elation and fear. I had left him helpless and vulnerable on that white porcelain toilet and all I found myself thinking about was the fact that I’ve never seen a toilet like that— white, glistening porcelain with slick silver fixtures. How sick is that? My meager possessions were so old and worn that I actually took pleasure in the crisp white linens, and the floors that sparkled like something you’d see in the lobby of a fancy hotel. I was perplexed with my reaction to my husband’s
weakened state. Secretly feeling twinges of joy each time he groaned or yelled out in pain. I became fixated with the foamy spittle that seeped from his lips whenever he groaned. A rabid dog finally subdued. “What are you looking at ass wipe?” He hadn’t spoken, but I could hear it. His eyes empty of emotion, his face drawn and pale. Was that what I looked like to him when I was at the mercy of his moods, his rages, and the steel toe of his boots? “How does that feel?” Blood drained from my face and hopes and dreams pummeled into the faded linoleum floor. Today, he couldn’t chase me or grab my arms and pin me against the wall, or bring me to my knees with his infamous kidney punch. Each day, this thought etched itself a little deeper into my brain, slowly severing the paralysis that had trapped me. “You’ve got nothin’ but shit for brains.”
My face burned with self-loathing. “I got cotton mouth, I can’t swallow. Get me some water.” I pretended not to hear him. I held out as long as I dared, hoping he’d choke on that thick cottony sensation that he must feel deep in his throat before I finally responded to him by refilling his cup; lukewarm because I’d let the ice melt. I waited for him to spit it out and send the cup flying at my head. Instead, he just drank thirstily, losing most of the water down his chin. I snatched the pillows out from under him a little too roughly, pretended to straighten them, and then, with a little more strength than necessary, shoved his head back down when I was done. He winced and a warm fluttery sensation filled my belly. I began taking longer and longer to go to him each time he called from the bathroom, demanding to be lifted off that fine porcelain toilet; to be released from his helpless state.
I thought, “How does it feel?” One day I waited so long, I felt pin pricks of fear at the nape of my neck, and the voice in my head was full of urgency. “Susan, you’d better get in there, or there’ll be hell to pay.” I could feel myself deviating from the plan, from the natural course of things meant to be. I felt a sting on my face, just as sure as if he’d slapped me—it was the realization that he’d be coming home soon, his old self again. Slowly, I entered the bathroom, passing by him to reach the sink. I washed my hands as he sat on the toilet, his lumpish, exposed flesh white as a fish’s underbelly. His fists were clenched, waiting for my obedience. I reveled in the cool clear water just a minute longer and then quickly dried my hands before I turned and walked out of the bathroom and down the hall. That was the last time I saw the man that I married.
Contributor Corner An Interview with Salena Casha
BF: You've labeled your flash fiction piece as young adult. Why do you enjoy writing young adult fiction? Have you written in other areas?
SC: For me, young adult fiction represents personal growth. It concerns kids dealing with critical junctures in their lives that later shape the adults they become. As such, young adult fiction is exploratory, explosive and dynamic. It spans so many genres and serious issues. I write novellength young adult fiction most of the time because I feel that the complexity of a young adult experience is hard to boil down to smaller, contained pieces. I write adult short fiction, fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction as well.
BF: Where do you receive your inspiration for story ideas?
SC: Inspiration is difficult to nail down as it doesn't come to me routinely. I could be out on a walk and see a Volvo drive by and then start thinking about space ships. Once I start writing though, characters, plots and settings become mosaics of my own personal experiences, thoughts and people I'm surrounded by. All I can say really is that a writer's life and living in general is inspiration in itself.
BF: Do you consider yourself a plotter or a "pantser"? Why?
SC: I would say that I'm more of a "hipster." With short stories, I come up with a first sentence and follow it wherever it goes. Novels generally need a bit more direction for me but even if I construct an outline, I
eventually deviate from it as I go along. Being spontaneous with my writing drives my enthusiasm and engagement with the piece. It makes me feel more like a reader than a writer.
BF: How do you know when your story is ready to submit for possible publication?
SC: Telling whether or not a piece is complete is a challenge. Even the greatest authors publish novels and then go back years later and publish new editions with variations in text. That being said, I usually have someone else read the third or fourth draft of my story and tell me how they feel about the characters, plots, and settings. Here, though, it's feeling rather than grammatical construction that I ask them to comment on. If their reaction is what I was aiming for, I send it in.
BF: Where would you like to see your writing career in ten years?
SC: My dream is to be a renowned young adult novelist. As an author, I want the work I produce over the next ten years to span diverse categories: romance, coming of age, fantasy, science fiction and maybe even all the above in one. In addition, I would want to be involved in the writing world as an editor and, as always, an avid and devoted reader.
Author Interview A Conversation with New York Times Bestselling Author, Omar Tyree
BF: According to the bio on your website, you discovered your passion as a writer while you were a pharmacy major at the University of Pittsburgh. What exactly spawned this calling?
OT: Actually, my college writing assignments about my friends, family, hobbies and the city of Philadelphia was what spawned my writing. And once I was able to write about things I knew well and loved, my appreciation for the skill really took off. As a result, I received much higher English and writing grades at the college level than I ever had in grade or high school. And the rest is my-story, I was off to becoming a professional writer!
BF: You are known to be the founding father of “urban/street literature.” How would you define this genre? Furthermore, what are your thoughts about being categorized in this genre?
OT: I started publishing books in the early 1990’s by calling my work, contemporary "urban classics." But as the authors and stories grew in the late 1990’s and the 2000’s, new writers started calling their work "urban/street lit." But I never called mine "street lit" and I never will. As I just explained above, the germination of my work started off with the skills I learned in college.
BF: You’ve had great success with both self-publishing as well as working with major publishing houses. What were the major similarities and differences between these two routes?
OT: Well, the only similarity in self-publishing and mainstream publishers is that they are both putting out books. But everything else is miles apart. However, the main difference is that a major publisher pays for everything, where in self-publishing, YOU PAY for everything. But you also collect the lion's share of the money when you self-publish, and that's when or IF you're able to market, distribute and sell any copies in the first place.
BF: Where do you usually find inspiration for your story ideas?
OT: As a trained news journalist, I learned that stories are everywhere around us. We just have to focus in on the ones that we feel passionate enough to write a whole novel about.
BF: Which authors influenced you when you first started out as a writer? Also, which up-and-coming authors do you think we should keep an eye on?
OT: Terry McMillan influenced a lot of contemporary writers on the marketing and sales side of the business, but on the actual writing side, my Big 5 remain; Richard Wright, Chester Himes, Iceberg Slim, Toni Morrison and Walter Mosley. And the up-and-comers to look out for are now Wahida Clark and Ashley & Jacquavis. Those guys are doing the most work in a crowded field of books and authors.
BF: What is your favorite part of the writing process? What is your least favorite part?
OT: The favorite part of publishing for me is finishing a good book, seeing it in print, and then selling it out on tour. The least favorite part is getting the damn deal to publish the book in the first place. It's nerve wrecking to have deal with rejection and not knowing if the book will ever make it to the book stores. That's why self-publishing remains an option.
BF: Your latest novel, Corrupted, is a serial eBook. What a unique concept! What made you decide to make this novel â€œserial?â€? Furthermore, do you think this is something that will catch on in the future of publishing?
OT: Well, I wasn't finished writing Corrupted yet, and I still wanted to put it out during the summer. So since eBooks are bought instantly online anyway, I said, "Hell, let me publish it one chapter at a time like a television
series, where the audience waits each week to see what happens next." That was the idea. And it WORKED! So now I have a new one out with Insanity this summer. But instead of publishing one chapter per week, I'm doing one section of 6-7 chapters each month or so, with 4 sections total. And we'll see if other others are crazy enough to try it (smile).
BF: Aside from being an author, youâ€™re also a business speaker and a publishing and marketing mentor for aspiring writers. How and why did you transition to these roles?
OT: New authors and self-publishers kept asking me questions. And since I was trained, again, at the college level, I decided to put my degree and my 20 years of publishing experience and speaking skills to work.
BF: What do you believe is the relationship between networking and success as an author?
OT: Well, as they say, "It's not what you know, it's WHO you know?" Don't take that saying totally to heart, because you DO need to know what the hell you're doing. However, you can know everything in this world, and if you are not given an opportunity to reach other people of influence with your work, you could be stuck with a great idea and no listeners or a way to get it out there to the masses. So relationships for humans in any and every industry are very important! It's just like this interview is giving me another opportunity to reach people with my work, experience and value. So I thank you guys for it!
BF: Finally, can you share any details on any upcoming projects and/or events on which youâ€™re working?
OT: Insanity is out and selling in eBook form right now, and I'm working on several traditional publisher deals as well. I also have television and film, comedy show, stage play, and lecture events in the works. I'm ALWAYS busy working on something! A hustler hustles until he or she can hustle no more!
Omar Tyree, is a New York Times best-selling author, a journalist, reporter, poet, screenwriter, songwriter, play write, event host, lecturer, blogger, publishing consultant and literacy advocate, who has won a 2001 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature in Fiction, a 2006 Phillis Wheatley Literary Award for Body of Work in Urban Fiction, and a 2010 HBCU Legends Award for his tiresome work in urban literacy.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he graduated from the prestigious Central High School in 1987, Tyree first attended the University of Pittsburgh as a Pharmacy major and an aspiring football player. After spending his first two years at Pitt, he found his new passion and a calling as a writer and a storyteller, penning his first published series, The Diary of a Freshman along with two novels; Colored, On White Campus, (now titled College Boy in his Urban Griot series) and Flyy Girl, which became a contemporary urban classic that spawned an entire genre of so-called â€œurban/street literature.â€?
Tyree transferred to the respected HBCU of Howard University to finish his education as a writer in the fall of 1989. Leaving the English Department in the School of the Liberal Arts for the School of Communications, he graduated cum laude with a degree in Print Journalism in the Fall of 1991.
While at Howard, he created, produced and published “Food For Thought” a student opinion column in The Hilltop Newspaper, along with publishing several Washington, DC-based news articles for the Black Press.
Upon graduation from Howard, Tyree established his own publishing company, MARS Productions, in early 1992, at the tender age of 23. He then self-published and marketed his first three novels, including Capital City, which chronicled Washington, DC’s violent drug culture, and went on to sell 25,000 copies of his first three titles with distribution sources from Newport News, Virginia, to Queens, New York.
By the Spring of 1995, Tyree’s activity had attracted the attention of several major publishing houses, including Simon & Schuster, where he signed his first two-book publishing deal for a six-figure advance payment at age 26.
And as they say, the rest is his-story. Tyree went on to publish 16 novels, two short story books, and one nonfiction book on The Equation of entrepreneurship and business. To date, he has sold more than 2 million copies of his books worldwide, and has created a brand name in the publishing industry that has generated more than $30 million.
Tyree has also been published in five anthology books, several major newspapers, including; The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The News Journal; several national magazines, including, Ebony, Essence, Upscale, The Black Collegian, and The Washington View, and featured on the national blog web sites; The Huffington Post and TheDailyVoice.com.
Along with his many literary awards from various national organizations, Tyree has founded and formed his own non-
profit arm of the Urban Literacy Project (ULP), where he highlights â€œThe 5 Key Components of Literacyâ€? (Reading, Writing, Thinking, Visualization and Application). Penning a short story book, 12 Brown Boys for young urban readers in September of 2008, Tyree was cited by the City Council of Philadelphia for his tireless community work in urban literacy in the Spring of 2009, where he spoke about the need to continue the fight against illiteracy within the urban American community.
Hailed as one of the most passionate and informed speakers on artistic, community, educational, cultural, intellectual, popular and business topics, Tyree has been a featured lecturer at more than 50 major American institutions, colleges and universities, including Harvard and Yale.
Most recently, Tyree completed his first original eBook entitled Corrupted, detailing two intense months in the
New York world of book publishing, available now wherever eBooks are sold! Visit http://www.omartyree.com/
Cover Artist: Misti Rainwater-Lites is the author of several collections of poetry. The latest, Expired Nickel Valentine, is available exclusively from Goldfish Press. Misti also enjoys digital photography and collage.
Olubunmi B Bolarin writes under the name Boomie Bol. She started writing at the age of 13. After a long hiatus, she picked up the pen again in 2010, and now writes daily. She writes with the intent to have her works published soon. Olubunmi is the author of www.boomiebol.wordpress.com, a blog based on her writings. She lives in Illinois with her husband and twin toddlers. Contact her via twitter@boomiebol or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Angela Khristin Brown is a poet and cultural activist. Her writings have won the Ambassador of Poetry Award, Poet Fellow Award, Poet Scholar Award, Poet Merit Award, Who’s Who in Poetry Award, Poet Hall of Fame Award and Poet Laureate Award. Her writings have appeared in anthologies, literary magazines, newspapers and have been posted online websites. She has three poetry collections: Floet’ry, Black Voice and Poetry Collection. She has won the book award for Floet’ry and is a nominee for the Pulitzer award.
Salena Casha is an English major at Middlebury College. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bete Noire, In Between Altered States, Silver Blade, The Shine Journal,
Foundling Review, The Quotable and others. Follow her on twitter @salaylay_c.
Brandon Figliolino, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder, majored in Creative Writing and Political Sciences. He has published both fiction and academic essays. In the fall, he'll be moving to Washington to work on his Master of Arts in English at Western Washington University.
Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, poet, and multidisciplinary artist from Norman, Oklahoma. He proudly holds a Doctorate of Divinity from the Monastery of Universal Life Church in Seattle, Washington. Their maxim "do only that which is right" is one that supports the freedom of an individual to follow their belief system without interference from the government, church, or other institutions - an anarchist ideal. Flash's political writing has been featured in multiple languages worldwide, appearing on mainstream media outlets and radical activist journals alike. His most recent work appears via Anarkismo and Infoshop.org, in newspapers printed by the Occupy Movement across the United States, in Spanish via 隆Indig-Naci贸n!, and by Adbusters Magazine. He is an advocate of direct democracy, vigorously opposing the anti-democratic tendencies of neoliberalism, militarism, empire, religious fundamentalism, and the ongoing attacks against social programs, the working class, the poor, and public and higher education. In 2011, he founded the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA), an anti-capitalist information clearinghouse and media network.
Dr. Flash is the curator of the Outlaw Poets Society, a collective of poets born in the mid-1970s. His poetry infuses love and melancholy with Beat sensibilities, references to drug culture and addiction among hints of the Confessionalist school, and provides a critical focus on Black Mountain-style writing. He serves as a judge for the Pioneer Library System's annual poetry contest and as a frequent competitor in the OKC Extreme Championship Poetry slam series. He is also the â€œMan Behind the Curtainâ€? at OKPoetryPortal.org.
Matthew C. Funk is a social media consultant, professional marketing copywriter and writing mentor. He is an editor of Needle Magazine and a staff writer for Planet Fury and Criminal Complex. Winner of the 2010 Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story on the Web, Funk has online work at numerous sites indexed on his Web domain and printed in Needle, Speedloader, Grift, Pulp Ink, Pulp Modern, Off the Record and D*CKED. He is represented by Stacia J. N. Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.
John Grey is an Australian born poet and works as financial systems analyst. He has recently been published in Poem, Spindrift, Prism International and the horror anthology, What Fears Become. His work is forthcoming in Potomac Review, Hurricane Review and Pinyon.
Spencer Hayes lives and writes in Philadelphia. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Word Riot, The Molotov Cocktail, Bluestem Magazine, and elsewhere.
Patty Hopkins holds an Associate’s degree in Professional Communications and a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. She has been writing for many years, but has only recently decided it’s time to start sending her work out into the world. Along with writing fiction, non-fiction and personal essays, she also enjoys writing for children.
A.J. Huffman is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida. She has previously published six collections of poetry all available on Amazon.com. She has also published her work in numerous national and international literary journals. Most recently, she has accepted the position as editor for four online poetry journals for Kind of a Hurricane Press. Find more about A.J. Huffman, including additional information and links to her work at: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10000019138245 4 and https://twitter.com/#!/poetess222. David W. O’Connell’s fiction has been previously featured in OneTitle Magazine. Born and raised in Santa Barbara, CA, he served as a radio operator in the Marine Corps before graduating with a B.A. from the University of Iowa and an M.A. in English Literature from Middlebury College. David currently teaches English and coaches tennis and basketball at Saint James School in Maryland.
Lee Wright is a fat, surly, bald man who lives near Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his beautiful wife (who is only a little surly) and son (who is not at all surly and has made his parents considerably less surly). He is the author of several short stories and a couple of plays. One of those plays, Haint Blue, won the grand prize at the Chattanooga
Theatre Centre's 2008 Festival of New Plays and received a fully staged production. His short stories have appeared in Absent Willow Review, Metal Scratches, and Micro Horror.